There are two main ways users search for news and information nowadays. The active one is by making queries in search engines on specific topics and/or trends of their interest. The passive one is by browsing news websites, digital publishers and social media feeds. And as Google has been trying to get involved in all parts of our online existence, it is not surprising the company started looking for ways to respond to these user behaviors. It appears they have successfully managed to do so with Google Discover.
It is a content platform where users can browse a selection of articles and stories, based on their interests. It started out in 2017 as Google Feed but later got a revamp with a new name and new features. It’s well integrated with Android devices and can be accessed on mobile phones through the Google App or by swiping right from the home screen on some devices.
Discover is fundamentally different from search because here the user receives information without entering a specific query. The suggestions in the feed are individual for each user and are selected by Google’s algorithm based on previous recent searches.
Users, however, have some control over the information they are shown. There’s a menu below every article, allowing the user to share it, love it, or give feedback if they are not interested in it. They can also manage their interests and follow topics they like in order to see more of them in their personalized feed.
The feed is usually focused on recent news relevant to the user’s interests. It can also feature evergreen content that has not been newly published but correlates to the person’s recent internet search history and interests.
Discover’s popularity makes it a great platform to generate additional traffic to a website. But there is a catch. The good news is that all content indexed by Google is eligible to show in Discover. The bad news, in terms of SEO at least, is that there is no specific way to optimize your content to make sure it gets featured. The main factors at play in the algorithm sorting out what content to show seem to be serendipity, freshness, and relevancy. And serendipity is impossible to optimize for.
However, there are multiple steps you can take to make sure you meet all the requirements set by Google. Read on to find practical ideas to help you increase the chances of your content getting listed.
1. Make Outstanding Content
When optimizing for Google’s services, making top-notch content is always the first rule if you want to succeed.
In order to make your articles more eligible to be shown in Discover, you should follow Google’s basic criteria for making good content and comply with the official Discover Content Policy.
In general, the essence is to avoid all kinds of tactics that are trying to manipulate public opinion, spread false information, trick the user into opening the article, or provide an unsatisfying overall user experience.
Start with making sure you cover the steps in this checklist:
- On-Point Titles. Titles should express what the piece of content is about and give users a clear overview of what to expect. Sensational or exaggerated titles should be avoided if you are not sure you can deliver equally exceptional information.
- Clear Preview Content. The same goes for the whole preview content that the user will see in the feed (title, snippets, images). It should serve to provide a realistic impression of what the user will find out after clicking on the story.
- No Click-Baits. Content designed to trick the user into visiting a website by attracting them under false pretenses should be avoided.
- Current or Evergreen Value. Information featured in Discover usually covers recent events that are relevant to the user’s interests. However, it might feature evergreen articles that aren’t new to the internet but have not been visited by the user before. Both types of content should be original and provide value to the topic they are covering.
- Trustworthiness and Transparency. Information about the author or company publishing the content should be credible and easily available. The content should be time-stamped and have clear bylines.
- Large, High-Quality Images. The visuals in the article, especially the title image, should be attractive, and of good quality. The stories showing in Discover are represented mostly by the featured image and it’s usually the first thing that grabs the user’s attention.
Simply following these rules, of course, can’t guarantee that your content will be good or that it will be featured on Discover. But applying them to blog content that’s already of proper quality and you might be getting somewhere.
With Discover, Google is embracing the element of serendipity as the main factor when showing information to users. This means there is no way to make sure that you’ll get featured and it has been clearly stated in Google’s documentation:
Given the serendipitous nature of Discover, traffic from Discover is less predictable or dependable when compared to Search, and should be considered supplemental to your Search traffic. This means that you might create and optimize content to fulfill specific search needs for search engine traffic, but there is no way to create content that explicitly targets Discover’s interest matching.
However, if you are already producing content relevant to your target audience’s search intent, chances are that it might show in Discover as well.
As news websites are one of the segments featured the most often in Discover, publishers should focus on producing meaningful content showing interesting information, a valuable opinion, and a fresh point of view.
The life-span of publications on the platform is usually about three days. But if your content is evergreen or is providing a more holistic take on events that might still be relevant after some time, it might get shown to a user even months after publishing.
Optimize Your Titles
The title and the featured image are what defines whether the user decides to open your article, or not.
As mentioned, the titles should reflect what the article or piece of content is about. This doesn’t mean you cannot get creative and make them sound more catchy. You should, nevertheless, focus on your topics and state them clearly. Misleading or provocative titles that fail to capture the essence of the information provided can lead to a very bad and disappointing user experience.
Another point to take into account is the title length. From our observations, the visibility limit in Discover is up to 100 characters. But as the frame is narrow, how many characters show also depends on the length of each word used.
In the example above, all of the titles are on the lengthy side and are cropped at the end. We can see 83 characters from the first one, 93 from the second one, and 100 from the last one:
Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham Reconcile, Open to Another Fleetwood Mac Reunion Tour
From EV Batteries To Pod Taxis: India’s Richest Man Seems To Prepare For The Elon Musk Challenge
At Age 12, He Was Cyberbullied On YouTube. By 15, He Was Running a Profitable Marketing Agency for Instagram Stars.
To be on the safe side, it’s best to stick with the standard guidelines for title length that apply when you optimize for search and keep your headings up to 60-64 characters. When choosing your titles, make sure to avoid including long words if possible, so they don’t get cut out.
Choose Eye-Catching Images
As with the titles, images are very important to engagement. In some cases, a good image might make a user click, even if the title is not that catchy.
Eye-catching images that are relevant to your content or are designed especially for the purpose of the article are more likely to attract the user’s attention than a random stock image. Even if you can’t afford to use original visuals, make sure that at least your cover image is compelling, of high quality, and fresh.
The size of the image is also very important. On this, Google has provided the following advice:
Large images need to be at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting, or by using AMP.
An interesting case study shows that visuals that are 1600 x 840 pixels show the best results. Also, it discovers that Open Graph images have priority before featured ones. This means that if the main visual in your article is of poor quality, but the Open Graph one is better, the Open Graph one will be shown in Discover.
What’s most important, however, is that the image is relevant to the topic you are covering. As with titles, misleading images featured only as click-bait, should be avoided.
Optimize Your Pages to Meet the E-A-T Criteria
Similarly to content that appears on the first page in search results, to make it on Discover pages have to be optimized in accordance with the latest E-A-T standards.
E-A-T is short for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness and is a set of rules devised by Google to monitor the quality of pages shown in organic search results and help website owners comply with them.
The criteria are most strictly applied to Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages. These are pages concerning health and safety, law, finances, news, groups of people, and etc. It is considered that the information on these pages can affect the real-life decisions of people and if it’s misleading or false it can have a negative impact on their well-being.
To meet the standards, the main content of a page has to be written by an expert who has a deep understanding of the topic. It should provide detailed and complete information, has to be recent, regularly updated and the information on it should be valid.
The website, page, and author should have an unquestionable online reputation and be considered an authority on the subject of the main content. This should be confirmable by third-party sources and user reviews.
To be considered trustworthy, a page should have clear credentials about the publishing entity and the author. The website where the content has been published has to showcase transparent information about the business or person behind it, as well as easily accessible contact details.
Making sure that your pages live up to these criteria will not only improve the user experience on your website but it will boost your ranking. It might also improve the probability that your content gets shown in Discover, as Google clearly states that E-A-T is an important factor:
Our automated systems surface content in Discover from sites that have many individual pages that demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T). Those looking to improve E-A-T can consider some of the same questions we encourage site owners to consider for Search. While Search and Discover are different, the overall principles for E-A-T as it applies to content within them are similar.
Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
As Discover is a mobile-only platform, making your website mobile-friendly goes without saying. Even though there are still websites out there that are struggling to keep up with the changes.
It’s important to note that content from websites that don’t have a mobile version and are not responsive, will not be shown in Discover. With the Mobile-First Indexing update in place, they also will not be featured in search results as well. And that makes it vital for every website owner to take precautions and optimize in time.
Get Familiar with the Performance Report for Discover
You can follow your content’s performance in the Performance Report for Discover in Google Search Console.
There is a minimum threshold for impressions and once your content passes it, you should be able to see it in the console and monitor how it performs. The report is similar to what we are used to seeing on the screen and shows the clicks, impressions, and CTR. You can also filter the data by pages, location, or dates. In that way, you can see which of your articles get featured over time and analyze what has earned them the advantage.
Analyzing the data will give you insight into what articles perform better and this can help you improve future results.
Other Practical Ideas
Outside the official recommendations, there are some insights people have discovered through practice and might improve your chances of seeing your content in the Discover feed.
Own Your Property in Google Knowledge Graph
The Knowledge Graph is a database that helps Google’s algorithms make sense of the world and what’s in it. It consists of entities representing people, places, and things. By making connections between these objects, the search algorithm can understand queries better and show more relevant results.
To help Discover and Search work better, Google has added a new Topic Layer to the Graph. Its purpose is to analyze topics and subtopics, make connections between them, and understand the different levels of development a topic follows. This way it can better comprehend the progress of a person’s familiarization with the subject and estimate their expertise on it.
This makes it possible to make relevant suggestions based on a user’s interests and level of knowledge on the subject.
Having your online property in the database can help the algorithm recognize you as a valid source of information, analyze your content and consider you as an option when showing Discover results.
This also means that your entity might get connected to the entities that you write most often about, making it more likely to get featured.
If you are an authority on the topics and provide content relevant to different levels of expertise, you might consider adding to your titles brackets with supplementary info. For example, you can mark tutorials as beginner, advanced, or expert. This will make it clearer to the algorithm which users to show the content to.
Make Your Content Popular on Social Media
An experiment by JR Oaks from Locomotive shows that the social media popularity of content also might play a major role in the algorithm’s choices:
Holy crap BAM! Thanks for all the retweets. Findings: Crappy machine-generated content + a bunch of Twitter shares = Google Discover card. https://t.co/sXtoylnX9z pic.twitter.com/pudHXdwcNO
— JR Oakes (@jroakes) July 2, 2019
As shown in the tweet, he tested his theory by composing an article with far from top-notch content and asked his follower to retweet it. The article got 118 shares and 62 likes and although it didn’t live up to Google’s content criteria, the algorithm deemed it worthy of showing in Discover, because it appeared to be a hot topic.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that you should start making poorly written articles popular on social media platforms just to get traffic. Doing so will, no doubt, reflect on your reputation and might drive loyal followers away.
But making your good articles a hot topic and encouraging a conversation around them can be a step towards seeing them in Discover.
Don’t Skip on Open Graph and Structured Data
Metadata and structured data are very important. Crawlers can better understand what pages are about. It’s also important when sorting out what information to show in Discover as well.
The case study we discussed earlier and that had revealed that Open Graph images have an advantage over featured ones might not be alone in its findings.
For example, Ahrefs have accidentally found out that a typo in their Open Graph og:title tag showed in the title of their article listed in Discover, even though the information on the page was written correctly.
This might mean that even though Google states that “no special tags or structured data are required“, metadata has a major role to play in Discover’s algorithm and it shouldn’t be underestimated.
Getting your articles shown in Google Discover can lead to a huge boost in traffic even though optimizing for it can be a complex task.
Your best strategy is to keep making meaningful content that meets the E-A-T criteria, compose interesting yet clear titles, add compelling featured images and good meta.
Once you’ve covered the essentials, you can explore various strategies such as stimulating social media engagement, taking care of metadata, and making your online presence solid.